Minimally Maintained

Lush Lawn or Barren Desert

Turf grass is great for one thing only: uniformity. HOA’s typically dictate even which type of turf grass is preferred in the neighborhood, to lend a uniform curbside appeal from house to house. Ours on the Texas Gulf Coast is St. Augustine, a hardy, drought-resistant, semi-invasive variety.

To people, it’s pretty and easy on the feet. To pollinators, it’s is an unforgivable expanse of desert devoid of food.

In the spring, our St. Augustine is just waking up from its winter dormancy, leaves reaching up from stems along the ground to the sun, breaking free from the sprinkled carpet of sprouting annuals fighting for their chance as well. To us, they’re ‘weeds’ meant to be pulled or poisoned, to others, welcomed food after a bleak winter.

By summertime, this turf will do its job of choking out just about everything else, and it will back to a sea of green for our eyes, soft blades for bare feet.

St. Augustine certainly has its benefits:

  • manageable bed border
  • successfully crowds out equally invasive, previously established turf species like Bermuda, torpedo, nutsedge, quack grass
  • prevents invasion of other grasses into garden spaces and flower beds
  • stops soil erosion along slopes and in ditches
  • easily maintained, minimal-water lawn (as long as you don’t fertilize or ‘weed feed’)

Urbanization, however, has irreversibly changed the landscape for many species of insects, some of which are in real trouble like the Monarch butterfly and the honey bee. Without these pollinators, we too will be in trouble.

Some of us are taking action where we can.

While the front yard may be for the HOA’s and neighbor’s eyes, the back yard remains yours for re-wilding. As ours is open fencing allowing viewing into neighbors adjacent yards, there is an understanding not to let things get too visually displeasing.

Thanks to a riding lawn mower that was non-functional during the peak green-up period in March. we got to see entirely by accident just how functional an unkempt turf grass could be for the countless creatures that also call our yard home.

  • Wrens and Mockingbirds — spiders, also taking advantage of the fly population hunkered down in the grasses, are a favorite food for insectivores already raising families
  • Bluebirds and Flycatchers — mosquito hawks bed down in the long grasses, for easy swooping-in and reliable food
  • Deer — Morning and evening ‘munchies’ of wildflowers and native grasses that took hold during winter keep the doe herd returning daily to feed and bed down
  • Bees and Butterflies — a welcome food source for egg-laying swallowtail, monarch, gossamer, whites, sulphur, as well as bumble bees and honey bees
  • Snakes, Lizards — provide cover for a quick escape from predation by hawks when moving between habitats

Re-wilding: The Plan Put To Action

The first mow of spring last week left a large chunk of two parts of the backyard intact with late-winter / early-spring wildflowers, around 7,500 square feet of more than an acre.

Only time will tell whether our backyard neighbors are bothered at all by it, and since we are ‘keeping manicured’ all the turf at least 10 feet in from all shared fencing, I can’t imagine why they’d complain.

In return, I get to mow grass for 10 minutes less each time throughout the spring. Once the annuals die out and go to seed, I will return to mowing the area through the hottest days of summer.

All the non-human neighbors don’t seem to mind at all. In fact, they now choose our yard for their daily foraging.

Deer Bedding and Food

Evening Primrose

Evening Primrose

Deer Pea Vetch

Ladybird Beetle
a/k/a/ Garden Lion

Yellow Wood-Sorrell

Tiny Wood Sorrel
a/k/a/ ‘Clover’

Honey Bee on Clover

Herbertia Lahue

Herbertia Lahue

Grey Hairstreak on Clover

Mowed Around These
Happy Fleabane!

In The Garden Space

A handful of Milkweed was left to seed and in one otherwise non-functional section of flower bed space, save the onion patch currently squatting there, it is now overrun by hundreds of Monarch caterpillars.

Sprigs of milkweed are popping up from seeds planted throughout the vegetable garden, springing up between the edibles with their pretty red-and-yellow flowers singing happily to the world of insects, Come and get it!

Milkweed
Main Food Source For
Monarch Caterpillars

Caterpillar Invasion

Happy Sunshine Nuggets

Monarch Chrysalis/Butterfly

Soon To Emerge…

Happy Bug Boy

21 thoughts on “Minimally Maintained

    1. Welcome to DirtNKids! Weeds are in the eye of the beholder. Every plant is just doing what it’s wired to do. I only just learned that it was Fleabane growing in the turf. Too pretty to mow down! I hope you’ll be back. Cheers and happy spring.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Thank you for your reply, Shannon. I was actually not aware of that icon. I clicked something, at some point, so I receive comments via e-mail, and assumed that was the standard, but I learned something new. Thank you for pointing this out. I am still learning about WP features.

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    1. Feel free to email me any time about WordPress! Having blogged for 5 years now, I know a few tips and tricks. I had older bloggers helping me…just passing it forward. Cheers, Tanja.

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  2. Love this, Shannon! We are in the process of cutting back how much we mow, tree-planting in much of the “back 40” section, planting native grasses and wildflowers (which many people see as weeds, poor fellows), etc. I love that you’re doing it too!

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  3. You are an environmental hero, Shannon. If every one of us allowed just a little piece of nature to run wild, everybody would be better off. I love your photos, especially of the chrysalis. I never “captured” a live one, had to resort to a photo from a book. I hope to find the real deal this summer.

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    1. It’s what little I can do to balance out the un-naturing my neighbors are engaged with. I won’t even get going on how much purified aquifer water is being turned to ground water every day to keep said turf grasses green! Thanks for the comment, Tanja.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree, it is frustrating how much emphasis is placed on “English lawns”.
        On a technical note: I know somebody mentioned to you before that they did not receive a notification from you when you replied to their comment. The same is true for me. I would love to receive a message about when you reply. Thank you!

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  4. These are all wonderful ideas!
    Thankfully I live in a rural community with no HOA. I plant my gardens to a view of how they can harbor birds and pollinators as well. The weeds I do pull because of invasiveness are fed to my chickens.
    It is mid spring here in North Georgia, and my large patches of fleabane, those happy little daisies, are emerging in the meadow areas of the yard among large patches of wild violet.
    I look forward to seeing more of your urban habitat.

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    1. Fleabane! Thank you so much for the ID. We have been slowly returning our urban yard to the wildlife. Haven’t regretted it so far. Feel free to come back any time. Glad to have you here!

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  5. Here in the farmland of southern Indiana, my yard is visually vexing; front, back, and sides. I tell myself, I like it like that. And now, thank you, I’m proud of it; the unknowing eye be damned.

    Thanks for the lovely pictures. The caterpillar is absolutely gorgeous.

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    1. Funny that I have come to agree with those wacky serendipity folks. Can’t believe it took me so dang long! Something tells me you arrived at that station a little earlier than I did, Peter. ;D

      Liked by 1 person

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